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Newborn Killings Happen More Than Imagined

About 85 are killed or left to die by parents each year, new study says

WEDNESDAY, March 19, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A first-of-a-kind study estimates that a minimum of 85 newborn babies are left to die or killed by their parents -- usually the mother -- each year in the United States.

The authors say the real number is probably much higher. But a number of these dead babies -- left in garbage containers, woods or other remote areas -- are never discovered.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill study appears in the March 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers analyzed data from 1985 to 2000 about homicides committed against children under 5 days old. The data was from the UNC-based Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill and from the State Center for Health Statistics.

The study found that, in North Carolina, 34 newborn babies over the 16-year span were killed or left to die by their parents. That works out to at least 2.1 per 100,000 each year.

Almost 21 percent of the mothers involved in the known cases were married, 50 percent were unmarried and the marital status of the rest was unknown.

The study also found that 35 percent of the mothers in these cases had other children and a quarter of the mothers were known to have received at least some prenatal care. The average age of the mothers was 19.1 years and more than half were 18 or older.

Other study findings include:

  • Asphyxiation or strangling was the cause of a baby's death in 41 percent of the cases and another 27 percent of the babies died from drowning. The drowning was either deliberate or occurred when the baby was delivered into a toilet and left to drown.
  • Nearly 60 percent of the baby victims were boys.
  • Forty-one percent of the babies were white and 53 percent were black.

The researchers conclude that at least some of these deaths could be prevented if all states passed and publicized "Safe Haven" laws. These laws let parents transfer unwanted newborns to hospitals or health workers anonymously without being charged with infant abandonment.

As of 2002, 42 states had passed such laws, but there's little money to advertise them.

More information

Here's where you can find out more about Safe Haven.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, March 18, 2003
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